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Parents, Homework and a learning disability

Parents, children and homework are a combustible combination at best, but when the child has a learning disability, the situation becomes explosive. Parents feel caught between the school’s demands and the child’s needs. They worry about grades and school progress but also about damaging family relationships with nightly battles.

Of course, because every child and family is unique, one approach won’t work for everyone.

Here are some that do not usually succeed.

1. Take over the responsibility. Cancel your own life, spend every night with homework, prepare to go along in your child’s suitcase to college or job, and wonder why he or she doesn’t show any initiative.

2. Say “This is not my problem”
Refuse to become involved, tell the child he or she will “sink or swim” on their own, and install a sound-proof closet in the basement where you can spend most of the next ten years.

3. Nag and blame a lot.
Berate the child for “laziness”. On alternate days, blame the teacher for excess demands. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and wonder why your child stops showing you the assignments.

What Does Work?

It is impossible to be calm and objective when working with your own child. It is important to distinguish between areas where you can help and those requiring teacher or tutor assistance. Sit down with your child and discuss the situation. Here are some possibilities for parental help:

1. Organisation. Although strikingly creative, many learning-disabled children are massively disorganised. Help your child with a firm structure at home.

Provide a quiet, well-lit study area and a predictable daily schedule. This child cannot tolerate confusion or distractions. No telephone or television during study time.

Provide necessary study aids: A desk or table and chair of the right height; a book bag or backpack for all books and supplies; a tape recorder for studying word lists, maths facts, recording lectures in class, or dictating stories and reports before writing them; dictionaries, a thesaurus, and transportation to the library well before a report is due; and a typewriter or word processor and typing lessons – a miraculous aid to children with writing and spelling problems, even in elementary grades.

Help your child learn to use an assignment book. If he or she loses it, have another on hand.

Enlist the teacher’s help, if necessary, to check if assignments are recorded accurately at the end of each day and if needed, materials are in the book bag.

Help organise supplies for school the night before, and take the lead in structuring morning time.

Help devise checklists for work completed and for planning long-term assignments.

Give praise lavishly for even small improvements

2. Be available for reasonable help when needed. If the child has made an effort, you can offer positive support and assistance. The best learning will happen when you figure something out together!

Proofreading papers (Children with learning problems need special help here.)

Find something to praise before pointing out errors.

Mark errors in the margin and see if the child can find them.

Use a thesaurus together to find interesting synonyms for over-used words (“It was ‘nice’.”)

Look up punctuation rules together if you’re unsure.

Spelling

Acknowledge the problem. Many smart people can’t spell, but it is important to do your best.
Get all the senses involved when studying spelling words. Have the child pronounce the word, then trace or write it with his finger on a rough surface (carpet, corduroy pant leg, etc.) while saying each sound aloud. Repeat several times before transferring to pencil and paper. Try this technique with maths facts, too.

Buy a word processor spelling corrector program that highlights errors and lets the child correct them.

Reading, maths, social studies, etc.

Working through problems together in any subject can be fun if your level of expectation is realistic. Many suggestions for helping your child with learning of all types are given in my book, Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Learning (Doubleday, Inc.)

Acknowledge your child’s talents in addition to recognising deficiencies. Keep your own ego under control whenever possible.

If battles escalate or you find yourself in the role of constant tutor, it is time to back off and seek help, e.g. friend, neighbour, relative, older student.

Learn to work with the school. It is important to enlist the aid of your child’s teacher or resource specialist. Establishing this relationship may be your biggest challenge, but it is worth all the time, tact, and effort you can put into it. Your child has a problem that requires professional support. Even good grades don’t justify ruining your relationship.

Homework – Assignments
(older students)

Listed below are seven basic steps in working through an assignment.

1. DEFINE – the question – what am I being asked?

Identify
• What am I being asked?
• What are the key information words in the question?
• What are the instruction words?

Brainstorm

• What do I already know?
• What do I need to find out?

Group and map

• Which questions, facts and ideas belong together?
• What are the main ideas in each group?
• What are the key questions that need investigation?
• What do I do first?

2. LOCATE – or find information. Locate sources of information. Select information from within the source.

Use of variety of resources.

Resources: Magazines; Videos; books; kits; brochures; audiotapes; pamphlets; charts/posters; atlases; encyclopaedias; CD Roms; transparencies and specimens; On-line data.

3. SELECT – or choose the required information.

Scan

• Check contents page, sub-sections, pictures, reading level for suitability.
• Check the index.
• Look for key words, pictures, diagrams that relate to the topic.
• If currency is important, check the publishing date.

Skim

• Look more closely at the headings and sub-headings.
• Read topic sentences (often the first sentence in the paragraph, which carries the main idea).
• Read summary sentences.

Read

• Identify the sections that contain relevant information.
• “Interview” the text – ask it the questions you need to answer.

4. ORGANISE – the information, diagrams and bibliography.

Notemaking

Be organised!

You need:
• something to write on;
• something to store notes in;
• a system for organising notes;
• a way of recording the sources of information.

5. DRAFT – your answer.

Remember to:
• record only the main ideas;
• record in point form;
• use words, phrases, abbreviations;
• use your own words wherever possible;
• write direct quotes accurately and acknowledge them.

Record the Source of Your Information

Most people ….
read too much, copy out too much, photocopy too much

Read the question yet again.

• Organise the information into section and paragraphs.
• Check again that the information answers the question

Ask yourself:

• Have I answered all the key questions?
• Do I have enough information?
• If so, what do I leave out?
• Does any of this information not answer any of the key questions?
• If so, do I use it? Why?

Finalise the order of the information

6. PRESENTATION – Copy written and relevant pictures or diagrams added.

Decide on the best format or genre.
Prepare a rough copy.
Edit the rough copy carefully:

• Does it make sense?
• Is it easy to understand?
• Does it answer the question?
• Are the grammar, spelling and punctuation correct?

Organise the bibliographies.

Write or type the good copy.

Read it again to check for copying errors and changes.

Bibliographies are important because:
• they are a guide to the resources used.
• they allow the student to revisit the information.
• they acknowledge the intellectual property of the authors whose work has been used.

There are a number of acceptable formats. The following is one example:
Barden, Helen ‘Houses and Homes’, London, Wayland (1992)

7. EVALUATE your efforts.

• What did I do well?
• What did I find difficult?
• What do I need to practise?
• What have I learnt?

By Jane M Healy, PhD